Sunday, 3 Mar 2024

Douglas County Libraries considering ban of four LGBTQ books

The founder of a conservative men’s group wants the Douglas County Libraries Board of Trustees to ban four books with LGBTQ+ themes, including a children’s picture book titled, “The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish,” because he believes they promote a hypersexualized lifestyle to children.

Aaron Wood, a Douglas County father of two who leads the Freedom Fathers group, told The Denver Post that he doesn’t believe children should see drawings of drag queens or be exposed “to things that will damage them.”

“We’re not banning books because these books are still available. They’re available on Amazon. They’re available at Barnes & Noble,” Wood said. “A library should set a higher standard. And with that the library should make sure children are not exposed to hypersexualized behavior.”

But people within the county’s LGBTQ+ community say the request to ban the books targets homosexuals and people with different gender identities. And a ban also would violate the First Amendment.

“The fact that these four books all have LGBTQ+ content certainly makes it feel targeted,” said Meghan Zavadil, a Douglas County resident and secretary of Castle Rock Pride. “I’m sure there are books out there with straight characters and sexual content that he’s not challenged.”

The Douglas County Libraries Board of Trustees will consider Wood’s challenges at its 5:30 p.m. Wednesday meeting at the Parker branch. Efforts to reach board members about the vote were unsuccessful, but the decision comes just as new policies on censorship, content and citizen challenges took effect on Aug. 1.

Already, Wood’s first two attempts to have the books removed have failed after Douglas County Libraries officials, including its executive director, Bob Pasicznyuk, denied his requests. Challenges first go to the library system’s collections manager, then its executive director and finally the board of trustees.

Pasicznyuk will recommend the board vote in favor of retaining the books, according to documents filed with the board’s Aug. 23 meeting agenda. His recommendation also says the books do not need warning labels and do not need to be relocated within the library branches.

Book bans are spreading across the United States with many targeting books written by and for LGBTQ+ readers. In 2022, the American Library Association reported the number of book challenges at American libraries doubled from 2021 with 1,269 being filed.

“Overwhelmingly, we’re seeing these challenges come from organized censorship groups that target local library board meetings to demand removal of a long list of books they share on social media. Their aim is to suppress the voices of those traditionally excluded from our nation’s conversations, such as people in the LGBTQIA+ community or people of color,” Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, said in a March news release about the rising number of book challenges.

Along with the drag queen picture book, the other books that will be challenged on Wednesday are: “Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts)” by L.C. Rosen; “This Book is Gay” by Juno Dawson; and “All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto” by George M. Johnson. Those three books are part of the library’s adult collection.

All of Wood’s challenges site homosexuality or “gender ideology” as the basis for his opposition.

In a written challenge about the drag queen picture book, Aaron Wood wrote, “The narrative of promoting the destructive homosexual lifestyle of transvestite strippers to children is a cruel means of hardening children’s hearts and taking away their innocence in an attempt to appease a significantly small percentage of the population.”

Wood said he first became aware of “The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish” when another member of Freedom Fathers saw it in a Douglas County Libraries branch. Wood found “This Book is Gay” and started searching shelves and the online catalogue for other books that he found offensive.

“I was just sort of surprised to see these sorts of books were being catalogued in our local libraries,” he said.

Zavadil said she’s purchased the books that Wood is challenging, including the drag queen picture book, to decide for herself whether the content is inappropriate.

“It’s a pretty innocent children’s book,” she said. “The characters happen to be drag queens and there’s nothing sexual in it. At best it’s ignorance, and at worse malicious, to think that drag is inherently sexual and cannot be family-friendly.”

Wood said he already has started challenging other books he’s found on the shelves including a graphic novel called “Let’s Talk About It: The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships and Being a Human Being,” as well as “Sex is a Funny Word: A Book About Bodies, Feelings and YOU,” which is an illustrated children’s book.

“This is what I would consider a start,” Wood said about Wednesday’s board meeting.

In reviewing Wood’s written challenges to the first four books, library officials checked with other systems in Colorado to see if they have them and how many times the titles were checked out to understand the demand for them. All four were in circulation at multiple libraries and had been checked out frequently in Douglas County.

In a letter to Wood, Pasicznyuk cited U.S. Supreme Court cases that set precedents against libraries banning books.

Pasicznyuk also wrote that his decision to deny the challenges was not an endorsement of any moral standing and the library’s collection includes books from different points of view.

“Rather than using moral filters as the best way to gauge a work’s fit for the community, Library policy insists that customer use is the determining factor of a title’s value. It certainly is the most impartial judge of whether we keep any work or not,” the executive director’s letter said.

Wood and Zavadil expect a packed room at the board meeting, but neither had a prediction as to whether the board would override its employees’ decisions to retain the books.

“I’m keeping my fingers crossed that free speech wins,” Zavadil said.

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